Leighton Vander Esch retires: Ex-Cowboys LB ends 6-year NFL career after persistent neck injuries, per report


Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is calling it a career. After six years in Dallas, Vander Esch will announce on Monday that he is retiring from the NFL, according to ESPN. The Cowboys released the 28-year-old Vander Esch last week as part of a series of cap-clearing moves, but it was widely expected that he would announce his retirement at some point during this offseason. 

“I love the game of football so much, and my body won’t cooperate any longer,” Vander Esch said, per the team’s official website. “I cherished every moment of my NFL career, and it has been such a blessing to play the game for as long as I have played.”

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“Seldom do you come across a player like Leighton, who grew up playing eight-man football only to first play the 11-man game at the major collegiate level and excel,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Vander Esch. “His passion and love for the game was contagious, and from the moment he arrived, he has been a difference maker. His grit, toughness, motivation, determination and football IQ will be sorely missed. Leighton also embodied the strong character and personal qualities that make him much more than an accomplished player.

“He was a leader and the kind of teammate that impacted those around him in the best ways. Leighton’s playing career may have come to an end, but his future is very bright. On behalf of the entire Dallas Cowboys organization, we’re proud that he wore the star on his helmet, we thank him and we wish all the best to Leighton, his wife, Madalynn, and their young daughter.”

The team also released a video tribute to Vander Esch on its social media accounts.

Vander Esch, the team’s first-round pick out of Boise State in 2018, has dealt with numerous neck and back injuries throughout his tenure, including one that ended his 2023 campaign just as he appeared to be close to regaining peak form. He appeared in just five of 17 games during his final season, after he had missed seven games in 2019, six in 2020, and three in 2022 — almost all of them due to the aforementioned neck and back issues.

In his first couple of seasons, Vander Esch was a fantastic player, roving from sideline to sideline to make an absolute ton of tackles, while also displaying the agility and instincts necessary to be a coverage force in the passing game. He was named a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro as a rookie, and he looked ticketed for future stardom. 

Injuries derailed the next couple of years, however, and rather than picking up his fifth-year option for the 2022 season, Dallas signed him to a new one-year deal. He signed another two-year contract last offseason, but ultimately, the neck injury he sustained in Week 5 against the 49ers proved to be the one that ended his career.





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